The South African National Editors’ Forum’s (Sanef) Equality Court case against the EFF starts in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Monday.
“Sanef and a number of individual journalists have taken the EFF to the Equality Court to argue that the latter has enabled an environment in which intimidation, harassment, threats and/or assaults on journalists, including the individual complainants in this case, have been tolerated and, in fact, encouraged, creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the media in the country,” the body said in a statement.
In response, the EFF has argued that it did not know – and had no control over – the people responsible for the barrage of online harassment journalists are subjected to daily.
“However, Sanef believes this is not correct. We believe that the EFF leadership [has] a duty to publicly condemn the actions of [its] supporters when they harass and intimidate journalists and they have systematically chosen not to.
“We believe that this has created an environment within which EFF supporters, and others, have felt justified in threatening journalists.
“We state in our court papers that we do not think journalists are above criticism – we encourage criticism. However, we oppose threats, harassment, intimidation and assaults.
“Further, we believe criticism should be tested and weighed up through channels such as the Press Council, the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa, Icasa (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa) and the courts.
“We have noted that the EFF [has] specifically chosen not to subject [its] criticisms – including allegations that journalists operate as politicians – to these structures so that these criticisms can be tested and verified. A further set of issues raised by the EFF is that the protection afforded by the Equality Act does not extend to journalists and the journalist profession.
“Sanef, however, contends that the Act does indeed make space for journalists to be protected by virtue of their occupation.
“Finally, [Julius] Malema, president of the EFF, denies that his speech, made to his supporters outside the Zondo commission in Johannesburg on November 20, 2018 – the trigger for this court case – constituted hate speech and an incitement to violence against journalists.
“He claimed that in certain sections of his speech he in fact called for restraint, including in particular, restraint in terms of women journalists.
“However, Sanef believes that he selectively and opportunistically quotes only a single section of his speech. We believe that in other sections he clearly called for violent action against journalists.
“Further, he named particular journalists who were then mercilessly trolled. Sanef is hoping that this court case – together with other recent court cases fighting harassment of journalists, for example [eNCA journalist] Karima Brown’s case against the EFF – will begin to build and rebuild an environment where journalists can do their work, [that is] to report without fear or favour and to hold the powerful to account.”